Single father Todd relaxes at the beach with his son Anthony, who’ll soon be starting first grade. A man approaches, appearing to recognize Todd. Jolted, Todd recognizes the man as Jack, his high-school bully. Bad things ensue.
Jack invites himself to dinner. He forms a fast bond with Anthony. That evening, Jack crashes at Todd’s place. The next day, Jack doesn’t leave. Instead, he ingratiates himself deeper into Todd’s life. Todd begins to suspect the meeting may not have been accidental.
Woven between the present-day story, the book chronicles Jack’s arrival at Todd’s high school and the merciless bullying and ostracizing that followed.
Back in the present, things build to an abrupt turning point after which, well, Habib says it best:
Things will be darker now, much darker now than they were before.
I won’t spoil any more, so forgive me as I talk around the plot.
Habib proves a talented writer, tossing off resonant insights about both adolescence and adulthood. Early on, when Todd withers under Jack’s incessant bullying, he turns to comics as an escape.
The comic books are cosmic; they could be about saving the entire universe. They feel expansive, as his world contracts.
Habib also packs a terrific sense of black humor. Consider the scene where Todd’s withdrawal at school causes the guidance counselor to send home a note warning his mother of drug abuse and encouraging she have “the talk” with him. Todd walks in to find her searching his room.
She must have known he’d walk in on her in that moment, wanted to be caught so they could have “the talk.” Why had the guidance counselor put quotes around that? Shouldn’t standards for good punctuation be as high for staff as for the students?
Or later, when Todd prepares to graduate high school:
Behind them are bleachers filled with parents and other family members here to celebrate their own emancipation, the moment they’ll be free of their children.
Habib also proves adept at going for the emotional jugular when necessary, such as this scene between Todd and his former girlfriend, Hannah:
“You’re …” She considers her words quickly. “You’re, like, a problem now. I don’t want to get barked at in the halls or … I don’t want to have to carry whatever it is you’re going through. I’ve got enough to deal with.”
“But school is almost over,” Todd says. This feels as bad as the note from the guidance counselor.
“It’s not over yet, though,” Hannah says quickly.
A problem, friendless, lonely. It feels like everyone is saying out loud what he thinks about himself now, which is, everyone knows, the worst thing anyone can do to another person.
And yet, despite the sharp insights and barbed humor, Hawk Mountain proved a frustrating read. Habib writes in short chapters cutting between the past and present. He leverages this technique to generate tension, but it sacrifices momentum. Each transition pulled me out of the story.
Worst of all, when the story becomes clear, it underwhelms. It’s not a bad story per se, but told straight it needs something more. Hence the transitions. There’s a case that the anti-climax serves as the ultimate gut-punch. That a single moment set in motion an inevitable chain of violence. But, then again, maybe that’s me trying to apologize for the anemic story. I wanted to like this more. Habib proves a gifted storyteller. I hope his next book sees him telling a better story.
- 24 Jul, 20223%
- 26 Jul, 202210%
- 27 Jul, 202215%
- 06 Aug, 202218%
- 07 Aug, 202221%
- 08 Aug, 202227%
- 09 Aug, 202230%
- 15 Aug, 202242%
- 16 Aug, 202247%
- 22 Aug, 202251%
- 23 Aug, 202252%
- 27 Aug, 202263%
- 28 Aug, 202265%
- 03 Sep, 202271%
- 04 Sep, 2022Finished